School nurses face new challenges this year amongst pandemic

Owen Reimer, Entertainment Editor

In the last year, students and staff at Bellevue West have had to change the way the school functions. While facing various adjustments from the pandemic, such as attempts at keeping everyone six feet apart and the introduction of block scheduling, everyone is slightly on edge. But for the school nurses, the struggles to keep everyone safe have added to their workload. On top of their original job description, they now have to help students remain as safe as possible from the coronavirus.

This year, Bellevue West’s school nurse Christina Aragon, along with health paraprofessional Carole Stinson, have had to keep up to date on constantly changing guidelines pertaining to the pandemic. Whenever there is an update from the Sarpy/Cass Health Department in regards to COVID-19, Zoom meetings are held to support the health office staff in following Directed Health Measures in the state of Nebraska. 

“Some people think we’re doing too much, and some people think we don’t do enough, so it’s like that fine balance,” Aragon said. “All these measures are put into place so that we can stay in school, because we always think school is the best place for everybody to be.”

Before school started, Bellevue Public Schools had to make sure it was safe to return for students and personnel. In July, all nurses and health paras met for professional learning in regards to COVID-19.

“We needed to review all CDC and health department recommendations to open school safely,” district public health coordinator Susan Fjelstad said. 

Nurses have to keep their offices sanitized, as to not put potential students who enter at risk. On top of cleaning everything everyone touches, they send students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to the triage tent they have set up in the commons. That way, Fjelstad said, they can limit the contact of students who have potentially been exposed to the virus to people who have to visit the office for medication, concussion checkups, or other minor medical issues.

The nurses also keep track of students with weakened immune systems who chose to attend Bellevue West in person, instead of opting for online education. 

“When they come, we have a way to mark that these kids are immunocompromised in the computer so we all know to be aware of that,” Aragon said. “So if we know that if they are out ill, we’ll call and check and make sure that there’s nothing more going on than just a regular illness.” 

The additions to the district nurse’s responsibilities greatly changes their workday. 

“[Nurses] spend the majority of their day talking to families about COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidelines and monitoring the health of students in school,” Fjelstad said.

All COVID-19 amendments are all additions to the original workload. While school nurses might need to be taking care of positive cases and making sure they follow correct protocols while quarantining, they still have many other basic things to do. Whether it’s giving daily medications, taking care of diabetic students, or just cleaning the office, with just two people running the office, it’s a lot of added pressure.

Covid is definitely stressful in the nurse office,” Aragon said. “When the new DHMs went into effect last December it really impacted what I do.  Now there are more dates to track and follow up with students.”

Every year the nurses have to do health screenings for sophomores. 

“Health screenings have been put on hold because we had an increase in some cases here at West,” Aragon said. “And so I was not comfortable bringing in unhealthy kids for screening when I had kids who need to be on quarantine coming into the office to leave.”

According to UNMC, for the pandemic to end, a large majority of people must gain immunity to the virus. With the introduction of a vaccine to the public, this is looking like a much larger possibility. As part of the state vaccination plan, school nurses were listed in the first tier of priority to get the vaccine. Starting on Jan. 21, according to Fjelstad, nurses and health paraprofessionals could get their first shot. 

Students can still take  precautions to keep themselves out of the nurses offices and quarantine. According to Aragon, the number one way to prevent being quarantined is to eat lunch alone. Because masks are down, this is the easiest way to trace if a student is in high contact with someone who has been tested positive. Simply eating alone can prevent a lot of these problems.  

Fjelstad remains optimistic about how our school and district is handling this pandemic.

“Students and staff are making a difference in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Fjelstad said. “The work of the local health experts to prepare us for in person school has really made a difference.”